Practice Talk

Posted: May 24th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 161 Comments »

Another Tuesday, another open practice for the media. As we always talk about, there are no hard conclusions to be found in these practices. We just get some hints about the players and the team.

We’ll start with Jimmy Bama’s notes.

On the second day of media access to Eagles OTAs, Sam Bradford was very sharp. He missed a wide open Zach Ertz on a sideline throw, but otherwise, Bradford was very accurate, delivering the ball with good placement and allowing receivers to get yards after the catch.

That is good to hear. The Eagles future is all about Carson Wentz, but the present is all about Sam Bradford. This time last year Bradford was rehabbing his knee. Being on the field and developing good chemistry with his teammates should make a difference. There isn’t any hitting or tackling, but QBs and receivers can work on their timing and really get something from these practices.

I don’t know what happened last year in the games that mattered, but there’s no question Nelson Agholor is talented. He snatched a deep crosser with his hands away from his body over the middle and then turned on the jets, running away from the safeties for a score. His acceleration is very impressive.

We’ve already talked a bit about Agholor and his need to play better this year. You could argue he’s the real X-factor on offense. Bradford has to be consistent. Ryan Mathews has to stay healthy. The OL has some very good pieces in place. Agholor has to show that he can be a good starting NFL receiver. If he can make plays this spring and summer, that should help his confidence.

Jimmy has some good depth chart info so be sure to check out his notes.

Jeff McLane also had good practice notes.

— The cornerback position – both outside spots and in the slot – is up for grabs. Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks have been the starters, partly, it would seem, because they both know Schwartz’s system from Buffalo. Jalen Mills got some first-team reps. The rookie broke up a jump ball down the sideline vs. Matthews. He has good length. Schwartz is just mixing and matching, and moving players around at this point. My guess is that the outside spots will eventually be McKelvin’s and Eric Rowe’s to lose. Rowe had a solid day. He had coverage on one Chase Daniel toss to Agholor and broke up another long Daniel pass. Rowe spends a lot of time between reps chatting with Cory Undlin. You can tell that Rowe is one of the defensive backs coach’s pet projects. Being a second-round pick helps, but Rowe looks very coachable. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (ankle) and JaCorey Shepherd (knee) participated in warmups and some individual drills, but are being held out of team drills for now.

Leodis McKelvin, Eric Rowe and Nolan Carroll are the 3 best corners on the team right now. Carroll isn’t fully healthy so that limits his reps. I think Jim Schwartz is smart to start McKelvin and Ron Brooks. Those guys know the system and allow the others to watch and learn as the starting D is out on the field.

Mills is interesting. The Eagles list him at S, but they are moving him around. After practice, Schwartz talked about Mills having good corner skills. It sounds like he is playing well there right now. The Eagles don’t have any stud CBs right now, but they could have a good competition this summer as these young, talented guys fight for roster spots and playing time.

— Wide receiver Rueben Randle had his gall bladder removed Monday. The surgery was deemed minor, but he will be out for a little while. I thought that Chris Givens, another receiver added in free agency this off-season, had a nice day. He toasted cornerback Denzel Rice at one point. When receiver Jonathan Krause beat Rice a short time later, Undlin and Schwartz pulled the corner in disgust. Agholor was active. He likes to talk on the field. A number of defensive backs (Jenkins, Brooks) gave him a hard time because it was his birthday (he turned 23).

Givens played well with Bradford for a year in St. Louis so it would be good to see him have a nice summer and push for playing time. Givens has good speed, something the Eagles need at receiver.

As for Denzel Rice, he is one of the young corners that is struggling right now. Rice played well enough to make the team as a rookie, but that doesn’t guarantee him anything this season. Every year we see a UDFA or late round pick that looked good last year struggle to stay at that level. Not everyone can stay hungry and play with the edge that helped them to make the team. No idea if that’s the case with Rice, but it has happened a lot in the past. That’s just human nature working against players. When you sample life in the NFL and make several hundred thousand dollars fresh out of college, it can be tough to stay focused.

Tim McManus wraps up the practice notes.

12:15 — We’re positioned on the same sideline as the players and coaches today, which is great because it lets us pick up on some of the interactions. Malcolm Jenkins sees the offense is in a personnel grouping that might give them some issues. He yells out the package number to Schwartz. After a beat, the defensive coordinator responds. “Stay in nickel. F__k ’em.”

“F__k ’em,” Jenkins relays. The following play is an incompletion.

Always love stories like this. You can see what a smart player Jenkins is. I think it is also good for the players and Schwartz to bond. He’s teaching them to have an attitude, which is important on defense. Offense is more about timing and execution. Attitude helps on defense, where attacking is the name of the game.

12:00 — Wentz is up and down today. Here he throws a beauty to Chris Givens down the right sideline and then finds Jordan Matthews streaking up the middle. As is his custom, Matthews turns upfield and races 40 yards to the end zone, still running long after the play is over in everyone else’s eyes.

12:22 — Wentz gets tangled up with a lineman, trips, and unleashes a sidearm pass on his way to the ground that somehow makes it to Trey Burton. Rookie growing pains.

12:35 — Red zone drills. Wentz fires a “touchdown” to Pantale. As he rejoins the quarterbacks, Wentz and Bradford share a laugh and then a high five. Maybe Pederson is right. Maybe all is right in the quarterback world. For now.

Wentz is supposed to be up and down. He’s a rookie in his first month of practices. The big thing you’re looking for is to see that the physical skills are legit. The pass to Burton shows how gifted Wentz is. He was off balance and was still able to get enough on the throw for it to get all the way outside. That’s not a play that Matt Barkley is pulling off.

*****

Thanks to all the beat writers who do such a terrific job of covering the practices for those of us who can’t be there to watch in person.

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How Good?

Posted: May 23rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 118 Comments »

Football predictions are tricky. Every football team in a given year is like a chemistry experiment. How will the ingredients react when mixed together and then put under different circumstances? The 2003 Eagles were good. Add in Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens and the 2004 team became special. The 2010 Eagles were good. The team made a slew of changes in 2011 and that group went backwards.

Last year the Eagles went 7-9. That was part of the reason that Jeffrey Lurie made a coaching change, but usually a team has to hit rock bottom before that occurs. Ray Rhodes was fired after going 3-13. Andy Reid was fired after going 4-12. Chip Kelly got a shorter leash because Lurie wasn’t happy with how things were going off the field as well as on the field.

Doug Pederson didn’t inherit a disaster. He got an underachieving team with some odd parts. Howie Roseman got rid of the odd parts in the offseason and tried to fix the holes in the roster, but you just can’t fix everything at once. It takes time.

So what do we make of the Eagles heading into the 2016 season?

If you want to feel good about the team, think of it this way. Last year the Eagles went 7-9. Off that team, you lost DeMarco Murray, Mark Sanchez, Riley Cooper, Byron Maxwell, Miles Austin, Kiko Alonso. Heck, those almost feel like addition by subtraction moves. Walter Thurmond is probably retiring. He had a solid year, but wasn’t as good as the early hype made him out to be. DeMeco Ryans is also gone, maybe into retirement himself. His leadership will be missed and he did have a couple of good games, but it was time to let him go.

The Eagles upgraded the QB position. They improved the O-line. You can argue they upgraded the WR position, depending on what you think of Rueben Randle and Chris Givens. The defense should be much better, for a variety of reasons. First, the no-huddle offense is gone. That means no more leading the league in defensive snaps. The Eagles essentially played 2 extra games the past few years.

Pederson hit a major home run when he hired Jim Schwartz to come in and run his defense. Schwartz is a veteran coach who has had success at multiple stops and with multiple players. The other factor here is that Schwartz was given the freedom to run his defense. Bill Davis ran the defense that Chip Kelly wanted. It is likely that his ideas would have been similar, but Davis still had to deal with some restraints. Schwartz has carte blanche to run the D.

The front seven on defense will be very close to what it was last year. The team did upgrade at Safety when they signed Rodney McLeod. CB remains a mystery, but the Eagles have assembled a group of talented players to compete for jobs. Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe all have starting experience. JaCorey Shepherd was highly thought of last summer before tearing an ACL. Rookie Jalen Mills could be a player to watch.

By getting rid of underachieving headaches, adding talented veterans and rookies, and bringing in a top flight defensive coordinator, it sure feels like the Eagles have improved on last year’s 7-9 squad. Does this team go 8-8? 9-7? Even better? Somehow worse than 7-9?

In order to figure out the 2016 Eagles, you have to think back to last year. That team went 7-9 and lost 3 games by a field goal or less. They were a few plays from going 10-6. I know the reverse is also true. They won some tight games and could have finished with a worse record.

The Eagles went 4-0 against Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning (7 combined Super Bowl rings). At the same time, they got destroyed by rookie Jameis Winston and made Kirk Cousins look like Joe Montana. Twice. Ugh.

The 2015 Eagles are hard to figure out. They could look so good at times and so dreadfully bad at others. The team struggled to put together 60 minutes of good football. They were down 20-3 to the Falcons in the opener before rallying to take the lead. The Saints scored the first and last TDs of that game, but in between, the Eagles dominated them 39-3.

The Eagles could build a big lead, only to blow it. They could dig a big hole for themselves, only to claw out of it and take the lead. And then blow it, of course.

I think the pressure of preseason hype got to the team last year. Everyone was confident and happy in August. The teams started slowly in the regular season and the team never really recovered.  They did get the record to 4-4 at midseason, but even then the team wasn’t playing with confidence. The 2015 Eagles found ways to lose. It shouldn’t be that hard to turn them into a winner.

The flip side of this is that there are reasons to worry. Pederson is a complete unknown. Can he fix Chip Kelly’s flaws? Maybe, but there sure as heck aren’t any guarantees.

While the QB position is better, Sam Bradford remains fragile. Just how good is Chase Daniel? He has to be better than Mark Sanchez. He has to. Right?

What happens if Ryan Mathews goes down in Week 1 or 2? The Eagles have talented runners, but other than Mathews, they all seem like role players. Maybe Kenjon Barner turns into the next Justin Forsett, but he could also be the next Tony Hunt (who am I kidding…Barner is worlds better than that already).

Will any of the young WRs step up? Jordan Matthews can’t do it all by himself.

I would talk about the O-line and injuries, but really all 32 teams are vulnerable to that.

The Eagles will be hurt if Jordan Hicks can’t stay on the field at MLB. He’s the smartest LB on the team and is a natural leader who runs the defense.

The secondary will be an issue if none of the players steps up to solidify CB. Schwartz loves to really get after the QB. He needs his Safeties to play the run. That means lots of man coverage for his corners.

You also have to factor in competition when thinking about this season. Dallas will have Tony Romo back at QB, although he’s likely to get hurt at some point in the year. They will have Ezekiel Elliott to feed the ball to so the run game should be better this year. Washington has to deal with the pressure of expectations. They didn’t beat a winning team last year so they weren’t exactly a juggernaut. The Giants might be even more of a mystery than the Eagles. They have a new coach and completely rebuilt defense. I still have concerns about that defense and their OL.

I think the Eagles can win the division. I know that’s setting the bar low, but there are just too many unknowns to get overly excited about this team right now. I do like the direction the team is headed in. Last year I had to try to understand Chip Kelly’s thinking. This year the moves are more obvious. You don’t have to try to understand why the team wanted Brandon Brooks or Rodney McLeod or Leodis McKelvin.

BGN has links to some NFL power rankings. The Eagles were generally between 22 and 30 in these rankings. That’s not optimistic, but is reasonable. Well, except for 30. The Eagles have the potential to field an outstanding defense, a solid offense and great STs. I don’t see how you predict that group as the 3rd worst in the league.

With the presence of Carson Wentz on the team it is easy to get caught up in thinking about the future. I’m excited to see what the Eagles do this year. I want a better W-L record than last year, but I’ll settle for a team that is less dysfunctional and more likable.

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Reggie

Posted: May 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 112 Comments »

Quiet weekend in terms of news or events so why not take a second and appreciate the greatness of Reggie White, the best defensive lineman to ever play in the NFL.

Reggie is my favorite NFL player of all time. My 3 favorite athletes are Reggie, Julius Erving and Eddie Murray. I have so many great memories of Reggie. My only regret is that one of those memories isn’t him winning a Super Bowl as an Eagle. I was ecstatic when he won a title with the Packers in 1996. As much as I wanted to see the Eagles win, I also was desperate for Reggie to get a title before he retired.

Here is a good video with clips of him as an Eagle and Packer.

Reggie was special because he combined speed, quickness, strength, power and agility. He could beat blockers in a variety of ways.

The most amazing stat for me is that Reggie piled up 124 sacks in 121 games as an Eagle. For 8 years, he averaged just over a sack a game. That kind of production and consistency is crazy.

As good as J.J. Watt is, he has 74.5 sacks in 80 career games.

Enough with numbers. Enjoy some more of number 92 in action.

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Lowered Expectations

Posted: May 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 79 Comments »

Look what Jeff Lurie had to say about the Eagles.

“I encourage people to keep low expectations.”

Wait. What? Why haven’t we heard more about that quote? Mainly because it is from the summer of 1999. The Eagles were coming off a 3-13 season. They hired some guy named Andy Reid to be coach. He had never even been a coordinator at the NFL level and was now running a team.

The Eagles had brought in Doug Pederson, Charles Johnson and Torrance Small…to improve their offense. I repeat, to improve their offense. Read that sentence a few times and then let it sink in.

ESPN had the Eagles dead last in their Power Rankings.

31. Eagles (3-13) And you thought Eagles fans were booing loudly on draft day.

Zing!!!

(Why only 31st? The Texans didn’t exist yet.)

I stumbled across these goodies while doing some research for a piece comparing the 1999 Eagles and the 2016 team. Needless to say, I think the current group is a bit more talented.

Remember Sean Salisbury, the lousy football analyst for ESPN? He offered some brilliant insight into the 1999 team.

The Eagles are three to five years away from really doing anything. They just simply have too many holes.

I played with Doug Pederson in Miami, and I like him as a player. But to ask him to go from being a third-team quarterback his whole career to being a starter is too big a jump. Pederson has not played well in the preseason, and Donovan McNabb is not picking up the offense as quickly. I just don’t see what they’re going to be able to rely on offensively.

A reasonable goal for them right now is to try to develop McNabb. Young teams that aren’t going to compete for titles must try to develop their quarterbacks. Some people say not to throw the quarterback in too early — if they struggle a lot, they’ll lose their confidence. Well, if a QB loses his confidence, he shouldn’t be playing anyway. They shouldn’t coddle McNabb and should just work on getting him ready.

He actually got paid for that nonsense? Crazy.

I’m going to write a post on the predictions for this Eagles team, but it was fun to look back and see the thoughts on the past, knowing how that would turn out.

Football is the ultimate team game. You never know just how much of a difference coaching and togetherness can mean in this sport. The NBA is all about talent. The NFL is different. You can’t just throw together a bunch of good individuals and have them win. They need to play well together. And they need to be led by a strong head coach and good coaching staff.

Pederson is a huge X-factor for this team. I don’t know what to make of him. I hope he’s going to be good, but you really don’t know with a first time coach like him. There’s just not enough of a track record to make a strong prediction. I do think he’s done a good job to this point so that’s encouraging.

The first test for any coach is how you handle your own business. The Eagles have a couple of contract issues right now, but Pederson has handled them the right way. Chip Kelly seemed to take things personally. For some reason, he just couldn’t resist saying something inflammatory.

Pederson learned from Big Red. Let the players say whatever they want. Protect them from the media and then talk to them behind closed doors. That earned tremendous loyalty for Reid and Pederson being a former player knows just how much that can mean to players.

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Time To Step Up

Posted: May 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 219 Comments »

DeSean Jackson had a monster year in 2013. Jeremy Maclin had a career year in 2014. Things did not go so well in 2015. WR play was disappointing. A big part of that was Nelson Agholor struggling as a rookie.

Many people thought Agholor would flourish last year. Some even predicted he would be the rookie of the year. That didn’t happen. Not even close. Agholor started 12 games, but only finished 23-283-1.

While Agholor was disappointing, he wasn’t Marcus Smith, Pt. 2. Agholor did have some really good moments and showed serious potential.

Agholor had his moments. The question isn’t whether he can play, but rather whether he can be an impact receiver. He has the right combination of size, skill and speed, but things just didn’t work last year. Injuries hurt him. Adjusting to Chip Kelly’s system hurt him. Adjusting to life in the NFL hurt him.

This year Agholor is improved and more confident. That’s great, but it won’t mean a whole lot until he proves himself on the field. You can say and do all the right things in the offseason, but your play will be the only thing people really listen to.

In this interview with Dave Spadaro, Agholor sure says all the right things. He comes across as a very hungry young man, out to prove that 2015 was a rookie fluke and won’t happen again.

The Eagles are willing to bet Agholor will take a serious step forward. The team knew it didn’t have an ideal WR situation, but rather than panicking, they decided to give Agholor and Josh Huff another chance to show what they can do. The Eagles hedged their bet a little by signing free agents Chris Givens, Rueben Randle and T.J. Graham. They didn’t add any receivers in the draft, but did sign key UDFA Cayleb Jones.

Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports offered his thoughts on Agholor, and some other rookies that must step up in 2016.

Despite the hope that he’d be an immediate cog in the Eagles’ offense last season, Agholor had physical and mental hurdles that hampered his adjustment to the NFL. In some ways, the difficulties were fairly garden variety for wide receivers – adjusting to the tougher nature and speed of the NFL and absorbing a new offense. Confidence was a factor, too. All in all, the NFL was a much bigger stage and adjustment than Agholor anticipated. Ultimately, he had to go back to the drawing board this offseason when it came to aspects like diet, study and workout habits. That sounds like a lot, but the Eagles feel like it was the more typical shock/adjustment issues that face NFL rookie receivers. There won’t be a lot of patience in Year 2. The Eagles have a significant need for a consistent playmaker next to Jordan Matthews, and they’ll be looking at Agholor to take the biggest stride in the wide receiver group.

There is risk in the Eagles relying so much on Agholor and Huff, but it seems like the right way to go at this point. You need to find out if they can play. If not, receiver becomes an area of critical need in 2017.

Think about the WR situation for a minute.

2015

Jordan Matthews (2nd year)
Riley Cooper
Josh Huff (2nd year)
Nelson Agholor (rookie)
Miles Austin
Seyi Ajirotutu

2016

Jordan Matthews (3rd year)
Josh Huff (3rd year)
Nelson Agholor (2nd year)
Chris Givens
Rueben Randle
T.J. Graham
Cayleb Jones (rookie UDFA)

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the 2016 group for sure. You get rid of Cooper and Austin, while adding Givens, Randle and Graham. Each of those young players has issues and that’s why they were available, but Cooper was a mess and Austin was an older guy on the decline.

The younger receivers may not pan out, but at least there is some upside with them. If they do play as hoped, they could really help the offense. It was hard to envision Cooper or Austin doing that last year.

The Eagles are going to do everything they can to get the best out of Agholor. In the interview with Spadaro, Agholor said a lot of good things about new receivers coach Greg Lewis. Let’s hope G-Lew can prove to be an underrated offseason addition. If he’s able to get Agholor or Huff to really play up to their potential, the offense will get a serious boost.

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